Oct. 3, 2008 — Building the relationship between universities in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in both sports and academics was the goal Friday of a meeting of the Interuniversity Athletic League (LAI) board of directors, which was held for the first time on UVI's campus on St. Thomas.
The University of the Virgin Islands is the league's newest member, participating in 12 varsity sports, including men and women's volleyball, basketball, track and field, cross country, table tennis and swimming.
The university's participation in the league has helped to step up competition between other LAI members and gives smaller schools like UVI the opportunity to win more championships, said Jorge Ivan Velez-Arocho, LAI governing board president and chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.
"We have to acknowledge what a powerful institution UVI is," Velez-Arocho said. "We went through the campus and looked at the different facilities and we're very, very impressed with the infrastructure. One of the other purposes of this visit is to establish connections with different research and academic programs here so we can do joint projects between our institutions."
The league started almost 80 years ago, with UVI and a few other schools in Puerto Rico joining the list of LAI universities only two years ago, he said.
"The presence of UVI has been excellent because it has given us and UVI the opportunity to share in our sports activities and really, it has strengthened the league," Velez-Arocho said.
"Now we have 21 institutions and a much wider array of universities and students participating in stronger events. This step of asking UVI to participate in the league, and the decision of the board to accept UVI, was excellent. We were able to establish a much wider organization that reaches outside our traditional boundaries and limits."
There are different levels of competition within the LAI and there is no one school that dominates all the events, he said. This "room for growth" will allow UVI in the future to move up the ranks and into the championship spotlight, Velez-Arocho said.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, which was also held to finalize the league schedules and address issues dealing with changes in regulations, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said UVI's participation in the league was very important and gives the Virgin Islands a chance to broaden its existing relationship with Puerto Rico.
"It's just tremendous that this kind of relationship exists between the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and to me, it's the continuation of a relationship that has been there for a long time," said deJongh. "I want to thank you for letting us host the meeting. I understand it's unusual for you to be doing it somewhere outside Puerto Rico, and it's truly an honor for us to be hosting something like this."
Putting the LAI's sports and extracurricular activities together with UVI's academics is a good fit for more than 100 local students that have joined the university's varsity teams, deJongh said.
"In our community, we don't have any semi-pro teams so the UVI sports teams become very important, not only to the student body but for the community," deJongh said. "So the fact that we have the opportunity to participate in a league such as yours, with the quality of competition such as yours, it's truly tremendous."
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